Iron is one of the most important minerals for health, growth and development in babies and toddlers. In recent years the incidence of iron-deficiency anemia in babies has gone down due to iron-fortified infant formulas and supplementation, but the risk is still very real. Especially in the second year of life, after your baby has been weaned from the breast or from formula feedings, getting the right amount of iron is of vital importance.
Why Does Baby Need Iron?
Iron helps the body to create new red blood cells, which contain hemoglobin. Hemoglobin carries oxygen throughout the body to keep organs and muscles growing and functioning. Without enough iron, your baby’s body can’t grow and develop normally. When iron stores are depleted, your baby isn’t getting enough oxygen in the bloodstream, which can result in fatigue, poor weight gain, poor appetite and changes in heart rate. There are long term effects as well to severe cases of anemia, which could even lead to hospitalization and blood transfusions.
What Baby Foods Provide Iron?
The best sources of iron in your baby’s diet are fortified infant cereals and meat. Continuing infant cereal into the second year of life can help to prevent iron deficiency anemia in your baby. Meat and poultry are also great sources of iron, but many babies and toddlers don’t eat much of these foods because they can be difficult to chew. You can mix meats with fruits or vegetables to make them more appealing, or try meat in a soup, where it has been cooked in broth and become very tender and easier to chew. If your baby isn’t interested in meat, try eggs, leafy green vegetables such as spinach, beans, peas, and whole grain bread. Choose fortified foods whenever you can to add extra iron.
One of the major causes of iron deficiency anemia in older babies is drinking too much milk. Make sure that your baby is not drinking more than 24 ounces of milk a day. Milk in large quantities can block the absorption of iron and also cause bleeding in the stomach lining, leading to iron loss. Milk is a healthy and important part of your older baby’s diet, but it is possible to drink too much and do damage to your baby’s body, so keep on eye on baby’s intake.
What About Iron Supplements?
Most multi-vitamins for children contain iron, but it is always a good idea to double check. The vitamin drops used for babies should clearly state on the label that they contain iron. Follow the manufacturer’s and your doctor’s instructions for dosage, and do not mix vitamin drops containing iron in with milk, as it blocks the absorption of iron. If you can’t get your baby to take it directly, which is not unusual as it has a strong smell and taste, mix it with a small amount of fruit juice, or add it to food. Just make sure when adding it to food that it is a portion you are certain your baby will finish eating, in order to get all of the supplements.
Children who have developed anemia may need a stronger iron supplement to recover the stores their bodies have lost. Your doctor will discuss this with you if it becomes necessary. Luckily, iron deficiency anemia is entirely avoidable in most cases, as long as you make sure to add extra iron to your baby’s diet early on.